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‘That’s Like a Poll Tax’: Senate Bill Would Require All Restitution Paid Before Restoring Voting Right

| March 25, 2019

'$59 million. Really?,' Karen Leicht told a Senate panel. 'You think I can ever pay that? I’ll never vote in this state again, at this rate. That’s like a poll tax.' (NSF)

‘$59 million. Really?,’ Karen Leicht told a Senate panel. ‘You think I can ever pay that? I’ll never vote in this state again, at this rate. That’s like a poll tax.’ (NSF)

Karen Leicht spent nearly three years in federal prison and three months on probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit insurance fraud in 2010.

According to a judge and a former probation officer, Leicht’s sentence is over.


But the Miami paralegal may never be able to vote in Florida, despite the passage of a November constitutional amendment that “automatically” restored voting rights to most felons who’ve completed the terms of their sentences.

Under a bill approved Monday by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, felons would have to pay all restitution before their voting rights could be automatically restored.

That would include paying in full restitution that’s been converted to a civil judgment, a provision Leicht — who was ordered to pay $59 million in restitution — told the panel would permanently disenfranchise her in Florida.

After she was released from prison and probation, the restitution obligation was converted to a civil judgment, which she continues to pay, Leicht said.

Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican who supported the constitutional amendment, asked Leicht if she has registered to vote.

“No, I have not gone to register because I am saddled with $59 million of restitution, and I need to make sure that when I go and register to vote that I am not going to commit another crime because I am not going back inside,” she replied. “$59 million. Really? You think I can ever pay that? I’ll never vote in this state again, at this rate. That’s like a poll tax.”

The amendment, which appeared on the November ballot as Amendment 4, granted “automatic” restoration of voting rights to felons “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation.” The amendment excluded people “convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.”

State and local elections officials, clerks of courts, prosecutors and others have asked the Legislature for guidance in interpreting what specific crimes qualify as exceptions and what is required for felons to have completed their sentences. That has spurred a fierce debate in the Senate and House about how to carry out the amendment.

Leicht said voters approved Amendment 4, in part, to remove the vestiges of Jim Crow-era restrictions, such as poll taxes, that made it harder for black voters to cast their ballots.

Leicht said she feels shut out of the legislative process, because the first thing lawmakers ask is “are you a constituent.”

The Senate panel approved the bill on a 3-2, party-line vote after Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami-Dade County Democrat who is a former prosecutor, told Leicht not to worry.

The self-described “cat lady” lives in Pizzo’s district, he said.

“Go register to vote,” Pizzo said, adding that “the state attorney’s office is not going to prosecute you for checking off the box” because she is not intentionally trying to register to vote illegally.

“Oh my God, I’m shaking. That’s so incredible. Thank you so much,” she said.

Leicht’s situation was the most dramatic example of dozens of people who traveled to the state Capitol to plead with lawmakers to do nothing or to dramatically scale back House and Senate bills designed to carry out the amendment. Many amendment supporters do not believe the measure requires legislative action.

The House version (HB 7089) has drawn criticism, in part, because of its definition of felony sexual offenses, which includes a third-time prostitution conviction, and its treatment of felons’ financial obligations. Critics fear the definitions could prevent many people from ever getting to vote.

The Senate version, meanwhile, adds attempted murder to the disqualifying offenses.

But Monday’s meeting was dominated by complaints about the restitution payment issue.

Bill sponsor Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, relied on a video of Jon Mills, a former dean of the University of Florida law school and a onetime House Speaker, who told the Florida Supreme Court that felons could be required to pay fees, fines and restitution, if those conditions were part of judges’ sentencing orders.

Under Brandes’ proposal, felons could still be eligible for automatic voting restoration if they have unpaid fees or fines that have been converted to civil liens.

“I think the challenge is, we’re bound by the language” of the amendment, he told reporters after the meeting.

Brandes, who for years has been a proponent of criminal justice reforms, said he believes that requiring full restitution repayment, despite objections from felons and the amendments’ advocates, is critical to the proposal’s success.

“I don’t think we would have gotten it through this committee, and I sure don’t think that it’s going to get through the Legislature” without that provision, Brandes said.

“That’s my concern, that this is as far as the civil liens provision could go,” he said.

Perry called Amendment 4 “one of the most transformative” constitutional changes but said legislators “don’t have the prerogative to go outside” of the amendment’s language.

He said he’s asked some constitutional lawyers to give him an analysis of what the amendment requires regarding felons’ financial obligations and completion of sentences.

He also reminded audience members that Monday’s meeting was the measure’s first committee stop.

Perry said he founded an organization more than two decades ago that provides housing, mentorship, jobs and training for felons.

“Of course, it resonated with me,” he told reporters, referring to Monday’s testimony. “I drove with a guy up here in the summertime, sat in a Cabinet meeting and testified on his behalf, as a citizen, because it resonates with me. But it doesn’t make any difference if it resonates with me. It’s what the court rules what are we allowed to do.”

–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida

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26 Responses for “‘That’s Like a Poll Tax’: Senate Bill Would Require All Restitution Paid Before Restoring Voting Right”

  1. Mark says:

    It may be LIKE a poll tax but it isn’t. It is what you owe in restitution for your crime, part of your sentence. If you can’t complete the sentence then I guess you can’t register to vote. Wahhhhhhh.

  2. The original woody says:

    After a light sentence make payments.Not much of a debit paid to society in jail,there has to be a deterrent so crimes are’t repeated.Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We had to pay a “health tax” and was penalized for not having Obamacare and she is crying about paying back $59 million? She should have thought about that before she decided to commit insurance fraud in which I’m sure she spent that money.

  4. Merrill Shapiro says:

    Please, please help!! I beg of you!! Why do we keep electing these people who feel no responsibility to representing what we want to have happen?

  5. Pail S says:

    Isn’t restitution part of the penalty for committing the crime?

    That said, 59 million? I am not familiar with the case but wonder just how that number came into the equation.

    Maybe if someone is making good faith effort to effect restitution? Don’t know.

    So, do the crime, do the time does not cover it all. Some victims are truly devastated financially and otherwise buy criminals. Their live may depend on restitution. When do they get their lives back?

  6. Richard says:

    Am I missing something or am I just plain STUPID? If a judge hands down a sentence that includes 3 years in prison, 3 months of probation and restitution of the $59 million dollars, then the sentence HASN”T been completed yet. Seems fairly CLEAR to me but I guess some people think otherwise and want a dissolution of their sentence for political purposes. Yeah right! Well I’d like to win the Power Ball Lottery too and that will never happen!

  7. atilla says:

    You do the crime you do the time. I think it’s a great bill. She stole $59 million and now she wants to keep it? Once a con always a con.

  8. Anonymous says:

    They should have thought about the consequences of their criminal actions , no heartbreak from this ex~LEO

  9. palmcoaster says:

    The GOP’s in control have become masters of creating and working the loops to circumvent ignore city, county, state and federal laws and voters referendums. Including the more serious merge of the House, Senate, Judiciary and Executive as well taking place now. Demagogues manipulations.

  10. Ralph Lightfoot says:

    Amendment 4 passes, then the Florida Legislature decides to change the amendment. Is that the correct process?

  11. capt says:

    IF a person is stupid enough to commit a crime, then they shall pay for that crime. her first thought years ago should have been, maybe what I’m about to do is illegal and it can effect me for the rest of my life. Sorry I don’t feel any sympathy for criminals at all. They had a choice and chose crime instead of following the law.

  12. Right says:

    She committed insurance fraud and yet is a paralegal for a law firm that supposedly protects victims rights and goes after insurance companies.
    She’s part of the reason (fraud) actual victims have such a hard time with insurance companies… and she’s complaining about voting? Get lost.

  13. Robjr says:

    A new means of voter suppression.
    These folks have more tricks up their sleeves that you can fathom.

  14. Agkistrodon says:

    If someone is Sentenced to pay 59 MILLION is Restitution, I would think they would need to pay that. If I get a DUI, I do NOT get my DL back UNTIL ALL FINES ARE PAID.

  15. Stephen says:

    Pay up or hit the bricks

  16. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Amendment 4 was clear and concise. Returning citizens automatically get their voting rights restored upon completion of “all terms of their sentence including parole or probation”. There is nothing in this language that requires repayment of civil fines. This legislature is simply putting barriers in place to thwart the peoples’ will and their overwhelming vote to restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians.

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    She comitted a felony then served time and is now a paralegal?

    I was not aware that law firms were “felon friendly” I worked for a law firm part time in Atlanta when I was a Deputy Sheriff. I served papers and even had to go thru a bakground check with them.

    She’s part of the reason people have trouble filing legitimate claims and getting money they deserve. And now wants to bitch about voting? Why are we more concerned with felons rights than victims?

  18. tom dooley says:

    What part of “All TERMS of their sentence including parole or probation” do you NOT understand? If repayment of civil/non civil fines is imposed by the court then guess what that means? That means your parole or probation isn’t over until “ALL” restitution has been satisfied by the court. So yes Amendment 4 was “clear and concise”.

  19. Right says:

    Fraud should be one of the crimes that disqualifies ones voter right reinstatement. I don’t know how good the law firm she works for is but I’d guess her story might be damaging. How can you say you’re for the victims rights and go after their insurance companies when you employ a person who defrauded insurance companies and again, is part of the reason it’s such a fight to make a claim.
    Not only should she not be able to vote…she should be fired from that position of trust she’s in.

  20. thethethe says:

    so if that restitution part is able to be ignored then the next argument will be the community hours can be ignored then the next argument would be probation should be ignored then the next argument will be incarceration should be ignored.

  21. Pogo says:

    @trumphole Republicans, et al

    So it’s okay for draft dodging, tax cheating, thieving, lying, pussy grabbing pigs to vote?

    I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends… that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.
    – Adlai E. Stevenson

  22. Agkistrodon says:

    @thethethe, Ding ding ding we have a winner. Tell em what they’ve won Alex. You’ve won a country overrun by criminals as we will no longer punishing crime. It is immoral and racist………………….yeah.

  23. Ben Hogarth says:

    This isn’t about opinions – this is about LAW now. The people have already voiced their opinion through Constitutional ballot. Here is that language:

    Amendment 4 – “This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

    Nowhere does it provide an exception for those persons who have not paid their restitutions following terms of their sentence. Quite simply put, such a legislative measure is UNCONSTITUTIONAL and will surely be discarded by the FL Supreme Court in a future ruling… as seems to be the case with a lot of Republican legislation coming from Tallahassee these days.

    Go figure.

  24. Richard says:

    Those who throw stones should not live in glass houses or close their eyes when looking into a mirror, aka Pogo.

  25. gmath55 says:

    @ Pogo – Yes, even a guy named Bill Clinton who was impeached and had sex with intern Monica Lewinsky and many other women was able to vote!

    https://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/bill-clinton-casts-electoral-vote-for-hillary-clinton-w456814/

    I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to Democrats… that if they will stop telling lies about the Republicans, Russia, Russia, Russia, Collusion, Collusion, Collusion, and accept the Mueller report we will stop telling the truth about them.

  26. Pogo says:

    @The question was

    So it’s okay for draft dodging, tax cheating, thieving, lying, pussy grabbing pigs to vote?

    Still waiting for an answer. At least nobody pretends resident rump isn’t a draft dodging, tax cheating, thieving, lying, pussy grabbing pig. Pointing out that rump isn’t unique does not improve him.

    Back to the subject of the article, clearly the Republican party will shamelessly stop at nothing to suppress the vote of those they suppress and victimize. If they succeed in placing so many people in a debtor’s prison – one must hope that their victims realize that Republicans, and no one else, screwed them. And then, instead of simply going away, they will do every other thing they are able to do, i.e., contribute to and participate in opposition to the Republican party.

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